The best documentaries shine a light on social and political injustice, remind us of our history, teach us about the inner workings of our planet and universe, show us pockets of the world previously unfamiliar, and promote empathy for our fellow humans—empathy that comes from a broader understanding of humanity, an understanding that can often only be achieved by stepping into someone else’s shoes and living in their world, if only for a few moments or hours.
Of course, a single writer crafting a “best of” list for such an expansive, ubiquitous medium is a subjective endeavor; these lists often reveal more about the writer than the subject, so it’s with some trepidation that I look over mine and realize that the first five films are all about men, driven by hubris and ego, making or reflecting on decisions that have devastating consequences. “Delusional” is a word that could apply across the board, from the grizzly man who foolishly thought he had found a way to transcend nature’s food chain to the 28-year-old NSA whistleblower who may or may not have a Christ complex. There are the aging monsters who gleefully re-enact the murders of innocents they committed in the name of eradicating communism, and then there’s the architect of the Vietnam War, who glibly recounts decisions he made—decisions that caused the death of thousands—as if he were recalling an especially difficult chess game. And then there are the soldiers in the middle of it all, stationed in the most dangerous valley on the planet, fighting a war run by men who view them as expendable pawns.
The takeaway? Men are terrible.